R E S O U R C E S
Ahom Dictionary Resource Project
Dr. Stephen Morey, Project Director
The 1795 Ahom-Assamese lexicon known as the Bar Amra
is the most important Ahom-language reference resource.
There are several copies (with slight variations) of this document;
the best-known is being carefully preserved by the Department of
Historical and Antiquarian Studies (DHAS) of Pan Bazaar, Guwahati,
located in Northeastern India's Assam State.
A critical edition of the DHAS manuscript
has long been in preparation in the expert hands of
Mrs. Yehom BURAGOHAIN, Head of the Ahom Section.
The CRCL Ahom Dictionary Resource Project is photographing, transcribing,
and translating a more readily accessible copy of the manuscript
held by the senior Ahom pandit, Chow Junaram Sangbun Phukan of Patsako,
Sibsagar District, Assam.
This sasi bark manuscript contains nearly 3,000 entries, and
may be the oldest extant dictionary of any Tai-Kadai family language.
It has never been reproduced in its entirety.
The project is under the direction of Dr. Stephen Morey,
who has worked extensively with languages of this region
(see his Tai and Tibeto-Burman Languages
of Assam page).
Transcription and translation is being done by Zeenat Tabassum
of the Department of Linguistics, Gauhati University, and will include a
complete transcription into an Ahom Script font designed by Dr. Morey.
Funding is provided by CRCL, and by Dr. Morey's
This project is enhanced by the SEAlang Library's Ahom Dictionary.
The dictionary draws on several Ahom manuscripts translated by
a team led by Dr. Morey, relying heavily on the expertise of
Chaichuen Khamdaengyodtai (Rajabhat University, Chiang Mai),
whose experience in reading old Tai manuscripts has been essential.
Several Ahom books have now been translated with additional help from
a team of Ahom pandits, led by Junaram Sangbun Phukan,
Tileswar Mohan and Medini Mohan, as well as the Institute
of Tai Studies and Research, Moran, Assam, under the leadership of Prof. Girin Phukon.
We are also very grateful for the efforts of Sri Atul Borgohain
over many years to promote the scientific study of Tai Ahom.
Significance of the Ahom language
The Ahom language is an important representative of the Tai-Kadai language family.
It is a cousin of modern Thai and Lao, and like them a member of Tai-Kadai's Southwestern branch.
It was formerly the state language of the Ahom Kingdom, which dominated Assam
from its founding, traditionally dated to 1228, through its ultimate
absorbtion into British India in 1826.
Ahom is critical for study of Tai-Kadai languages for several reasons.
First, it is relatively free of the influence of both Mon-Khmer and Indic languages.
Unlike most Southwestern Tai-speaking groups, the Ahom were never Buddhist;
and the large-scale displacement of native Tai words with Indic loans that
characterizes Tai dialects found across modern Thailand did not occur.
Secondly, Ahom has a long written tradition, dating back at least
five hundred years, and possibly extending to the 13th century
(which would parallel the development of Thai script in Thailand).
Ahom script is quite conservative orthographically, and the writings
themselves tend to resist lexicographic innovation.
This provides an invaluable window into the language's earliest spoken form.
Finally, Ahom has important characteristics from the viewpoint of historical
linguistics, including the presence of a voicing contrast in stop consonants,
and the use of initial clusters that are not generally found in other Tai
Unfortunately, secondary sources that cite the Bar Amra sometimes
diverge from the original text, and show the influence of modern spoken
forms now used solely in religious contexts.
The Ahom Dictionary Resource Project will finally make the original text
available for research and reference, and will open the door for
comprehensive analysis of Ahom historical and religious texts.
Bar Amra, MS 31 Department of Historical and Antiquarian Studies.
Barua, B. 1966. Influence of the Tai-Ahom on Assamese Language. Lik Ph1:60-7
Barua, B. 1975. A note on the Tai Ahom Language. Journal of the Department of Assamese. 1:60-1
Barua, Bimala Kanta & N.N. Deodhai Phukan. 1964. Ahom Lexicons, Based on Original Tai Manuscripts. Guwahati: Department of Historical and Antiquarian Studies
Barua, Ghan Kanta. 1936. Ahom Primer. [Reprint: 1987, Guwahati: Department of Historical and Antiquarian Studies in Assam] (in Assamese and English)
Barua, Golap Chandra. 1920. Ahom-Assamese-English Dictionary. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press (printed under the authority of the Assam Administration)
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Terwiel, B.J. n.d. Ahom Script: Its Age and Provenance. Draft article (no further data available)
Terwiel, B.J. 1985. The Rotating Naga: A Comparative Study of an Excerpt of the Oldest Tai Literature Asemi. 16:221-45
Terwiel, B.J. 1988. Reading a dead language: Tai Ahom and the Dictionaries. D. Bradley, E.J.A. Henderson & M. Mazaudon (eds.), Prosodic Analysis and Asian Linguistics - to Honour R.K. Spriggs. Canberra: Australian National University
Terwiel, B.J. 1989. Neo-Ahom and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde. 145/1:125-45
Terwiel, B.J. 1996. Recreating the Past: Revivalism in Northeastern India. Bijdragen - Journal of the Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology, 152:275-92
Terwiel, B.J. & Ranoo Wichasin. 1992. Tai Ahoms and the Stars; Three Ritual Texts to Ward off Danger. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University SEAP
Weidert, Alfons. 1979. Die Rekonstruktion des Tonsystems des Ahom. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlndischen Gesellschaft (exact title not yet certain)